The first time she pulls the trigger, there’s a disconnect.
A bullet flies from the barrel and shatters her vision of reality before she’s even aware of what’s happening. The blast rings in her ears relentlessly, over and over again, divorcing her senses from her surroundings. Somewhere, the target falls with unexpected precision, barely allowed a final gasp before being silenced for good.
Blood soaks her hands, stains them permanently, but she doesn’t feel a thing.
All she knows is a layer of fog that begins to envelop her. Protective, numbing. Enabling her to do what she knows is necessary. It obscures all else, anything tangible she could possibly cling to, and casts consciousness into an unfamiliar realm.
Like she’s stepped into a dream.
Her life follows a certain clockwork monotony.
Days with her hands at the wheel and her foot firmly pressed into the accelerator. Nights in dingy pool halls, shithole apartments, under water-stained ceilings that creak almost constantly. Sex. Red Eye. Gunshots. It all blends into one seamless whole, an existence perseverating itself at a steady pace.
Tick tock, tick tock.
A pace so steady for so long it’s always seemed unbreakable.
Her eyes meet his across a pool table, across a haze of smoke, and the hand on the clock skids to a halt. An unidentifiable force, like nothing she’s ever encountered before, shuts down the functionality of her nerves and muscles and locks her in place; a breath catches in her throat. There’s something about that gaze that sees straight through her, that provides startling clarity to something she’s always known but never understood.
She can’t be entirely sure she isn’t dreaming.
These moments are few and far between.
Moments when she doesn’t find her eyes drifting to glance over her shoulder, waiting for the only inevitable end. When constant fear is granted temporary respite, and is instead replaced by something that fills a void she’d never before been aware of having. When it’s just the two of them, and, even for half a second, nothing else matters.
Moments when she dares to think she might’ve actually been alive all along.
Morning sunlight begins to filter through closed blinds, signaling that their time together will soon be drawing to a close, but not just yet. Beside her, he begins to stir, but their entwined limbs remain completely still. His eyes find hers, and in that instant, any attempts to rebuild a guard are put on hold.
A quiet thought tumbles past her lips before she thinks to stop it.
“It’s like I’m watching a dream.”
He smiles, in that small, somewhat self-assured way of his, and she’s helpless to do anything but allow an infectious pull to briefly work at the corners of her own mouth. Maybe if she belonged to another time, another world, she’d think that she’d go to the ends of the universe to keep this man safe, to ensure that they’re together always. But such sentiments aren’t practical components of what she’s forced to call reality, and thus aren’t worth dwelling on.
“Yeah,” he says. “Just a dream.”
The door closes and the sound of footsteps fades down the hallway, but her heart hasn’t stopped trying to leap out of her chest and her breathing hasn’t eased.
There’s only one answer. One way out of this. She knows it long before the conscious decision to carry it out. She’s known it all along.
She has to let him go.
For a fleeting second, an image appears in her mind, something she’d allowed herself to dream of just once. The two of them, side by side, taking one last glance back at the only home they’d ever known, before moving toward the stars. Together.
But that’s the thing about dreams. Eventually, you have to wake up.
A bullet flies from a barrel and pierces her side.
It’s nothing but an inevitability; three years is more than generous on borrowed time.
She crumples to the surface, and he’s already rushed to her side by the time awareness begins to catch up. Consciousness starts to muddle, with no hope of repair. His arms around her, futile support, his eyes looking into hers, those are the only things tethering her to whatever’s left of it.
And it’s now, under the scrutiny of that contradictory gaze, the fusion of past and present, of life and death, of real and not real, that she finally gets it.
“It’s all….” The words are becoming more difficult now. Her body is shutting down, and her field of vision is beginning to blacken around the edges. But she struggles against it, just for a moment, just long enough to impart this final piece of personal wisdom. Because he’ll understand. “… A dream.”
The last thing she knows is the only affirmation she needs.
“Yeah. Just a dream.”